No One Used Miami Beach's Overpriced New Water Taxi Stop

Last year, Miami Beach began working on a new dock at Purdy Avenue and tested an expanded water taxi service that took riders to downtown Miami and the Miami Beach Marina. Commissioners hoped offering more transportation options on water might help ease persistently maddening traffic problems on land.

Well, the pilot program is over, and the results are clear: Almost no one used the new service. Between last December 30 and this past September 7, only 144 people climbed aboard a water taxi at Purdy Avenue. In September, the city commission extended the program so it could be used during Art Basel. The total number of riders during the four days of the event: zero.

"We've tried water taxis for many years," Commissioner Michael Gongora said during a Neighborhood/Community Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday. "For some reason, we've never been able to make a success out of something that in theory sounds like it would work great."

The committee, which includes Gongora and Commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Mark Samuelian, agreed to suspend the pilot program.

Operated by Water Taxi Miami at no cost to the city, the service ran from the Purdy Avenue dock Fridays through Sundays. The idea was to build a ridership in advance of a permanent, commuter-based service. But the price was $15 for a one-way fare — far higher than the $2.25 to take a bus to downtown Miami.

"Fifteen dollars is just too much," Rosen Gonzalez said. "It's got to cost the same as the bus." 

No One Used Miami Beach's Overpriced New Water Taxi Stop (2)EXPAND
via City of Miami Beach

Water Taxi Miami argued it got a slow start because of construction on the East Venetian Bridge, competing services from illegal operators, and the city's failure to take the necessary steps to make the service more affordable.

Company representatives said there is "untapped commuter demand" for water-based transportation, with 91,000 cars crossing the causeways and 14,000 commuters taking buses to and from Miami Beach every day. The company could provide a viable alternative, they wrote in a proposal to the city, offering water taxis 15 hours a day weekdays in addition to 12 hours a day on weekends.

Water Taxi Miami also requested that the city subsidize the operation, to the tune of $125 per hour per vessel, with the company providing the vessels. The subsidy would allow the price to drop to $2 they said.

Cities such as Jacksonville, New York, and San Francisco operate successful, subsidized water taxi services. But city staff in Miami Beach did not recommend that option because of Water Taxi Miami's performance over the past year.

Instead, the committee ended the pilot program, recommended the commission start a new competitive bid process open to ideas on how to reduce the price, and asked staff to reach out to the City of Miami about a potential partnership. They agreed what they were doing wasn't working — Rosen Gonzalez called it "a failed program."

"It was a tourist attraction," she said. "It wasn't utilitarian in any way."

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